Adapted from Community Broadband FAQs

Municipal broadband is a public Internet service provided by the community to its residents. Infrastructure is typically invested in by the local government, and is an alternative to Big Telecom’s privately-owned networks. This website promotes community-owned, wired to the-premises-fiber networks. The safest, fastest, most secure municipal broadband networks connect fiber directly to each premise and do not use or permit any wireless or cellular transmitters on their networks.

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Imagine if an ISP existed to put users and citizens at the center — Internet service for the public, by the public. The goal of municipally-owned fiber is to offer safe, fast, widespread, and affordable Internet access across the country.

Although this service is about community growth and prosperity first, not fiscal profit, the benefits to communities will be measurable in economic terms:

  • A thriving business district.
  • New businesses opening in the town.
  • A younger population moving in.
  • More families setting down roots in the community.
  • Community well-being as a wired-only network preserves public health and safety

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Compared to wired access, wireless networks and services are inherently more complex, more costly, more unstable (subject to frequent revision and “upgrades”), and more constrained in what they can deliver. Wired networks will always be faster, safer, more energy efficient and more data secure than wireless 5G. 

Speed: DSL and cellular services are asymmetrical – the data upload speed is not as fast as the download speed. But hardwired fiber service is symmetrical. This means you can upload content as fast as you can download it with speeds of up to 1000 megabytes per second – with no data caps.

Safety: Independent science overwhelmingly finds that non-thermal radiation can cause a multitude of health problems for humans and all species. Exposure to previous generations of cellular frequencies like 3G and 4G have been linked to cancer, DNA damage and more, and untested 5G  has not been proven biologically safe. 

Energy Efficiency: Sending data through fiber optic cables connected to our homes is many thousands of times more energy-efficient than streaming data wirelessly through the air and from the curb. 

Security: Wireless networks are not secure. Hackers may easily access personal data. Security agencies across the globe are concerned about the national security threats posed by corporate-controlled wireless 5G networks.

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Fiber optic cables are the backbone for cellular networks.  When commercial providers bring fiber to our towns, they also install small cell transmitters for 4G and 5G cellular by our homes. Some providers offer to hook the fiber right to our premise for no extra fee.  While this may seem like a good deal, these companies are not offering a public service.

These businesses are counting on us purchasing their services and they may also profit from selling our usage data to third parties. This will become especially lucrative as more and more of our “things” are connected to the Internet.  When millimetre wave 5G is in full swing, providers may even be able to use our homes as a 5G relay point by remotely accessing indoor nodes they have installed there.

The issue then is not fiber or no fiber, but who will own and control the fiber, and what gets hooked up to it.

Community-owned fiber is all about keeping the telecommunications highway in local hands.

This excellent broadband study and report done by the town of Canmore, Alberta notes that “opportunities to build fibre in the community are available through Axia and Telus, however, this does not provide an open and competitive environment and the Town would not be able to utilize dedicated fibres for their requirements in these situations.”

In other words – when communities own the telecommunications infrastructure they can tailor it to meet their needs. Plus, with increased concerns about exposure to wireless radiation, the prudent choice is to build locally-owned networks that are wired all the way, and do not employ wireless transmitters like telecoms do.

Learn more about how communities will benefit from owning their own fiber here.

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The Short Answer – Affordable, community-owned hardwired Internet combined with the growing public knowledge of the risks associated with wireless networks will attract consumers to wired fiber, not wireless 5G. By prioritizing community-owned fiber over telecom-controlled wireless 5G we are creating a paradigm shift. We are offering amazing opportunities for economic regeneration and for policies that are based on the public good. 

The Long Answer…

Private VS Public

A community-built and operated network will be competing with private telecoms operating in a particular service area. However, wired and wireless internet are not competitors – they are complementary. Wireless is not a substitute for wired.

Wireless is laden with risk, technically limiting, undependable, energy intensive, relatively inefficient, and presents important public health risks. The only thing it offers that wired connections can’t is mobility. 

Consumer Choice                

If a community provides low cost, high-speed wired-to-the-premise fiber service, the consumer will have the option to use it, reserving wireless for where and when they need it. Of course, consumers may choose to subscribe to any internet or cellular provider they like. But in terms of speed, safety, privacy, and cost it makes the most sense to use the locally-owned and affordably-priced local fiber network when at work, home, or school, limiting reliance on expensive cellular data plans.

Big Telecom

Big Telecom has the market power to limit service and data speeds, maintain artificial scarcity and high prices, and to exercise political power to limit competition from new entrants, private or public.

In Canada, big telecom companies are required to open their fiber cables to smaller competitors who want to offer broadband services to consumers, as long as these small ISPs pay “rent” for moving their data through this fiber and create their own connection points to neighbourhoods. Community-owned fiber networks are not obligated to share their fiber, although some governments invest in fiber infrastructure, then open it up for private companies to compete as your ISP. If you choose to rent your fiber to big telecom, be certain to stipulate that no wireless equipment may be connected to your network.

Less Profit Means Less Incentive to Build Wireless 5G

Private telecoms will keep doing business where you live, but they may be less inclined to invest in the fiber needed as a backbone for wireless 5G when there is already a community-owned fiber network established that they cannot control or monopolize. Private industry exists to generate profit. Only government or a community-owned cooperative will build and regulate a wired network in the public interest.

Knowledge is Purchasing Power

The public interest lies in the establishment of stable long-term physical telecommunications infrastructure, not in the ephemeral latest wireless application or generation. As awareness of the health and environmental effects of wireless networks grow, there will be a market-driven shift to reliance on wired networks.

A thriving community fiber movement universally could put wireline services back on a par with wireless and put wireless in its proper place – as a convenience for things that move.

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  • Start by talking to people you know. Maybe you voice your interest in fiber during a PTA meeting. Or maybe you bring it up at a luncheon with business owners. Finding like-minded individuals is key to building support and finding a champion. Find more tips for growing a broadband movement in your community here.
  • Mobilize and then approach your local government with your community broadband proposal. Use this Action Package to prepare for your first meeting.

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Internet services can be sold by municipalities themselves, nonprofits, small Internet service providers (ISPs), co-operatives, public utilities, public-private partnerships, and other community organizations. If the municipality operates the network under an open access policy, unused bandwidth capacity would be sold to ISPs for their use in retail. In other words, the municipality doesn’t have to become an ISP – it can build the network and let other companies sell services over it. To paraphrase from the film Field of Dreams, “If you build [a municipal network], [the ISPs] will come.”

To preserve the integrity of your wired network, whoever provides service must be under contractual obligation to provide wired connections only – no wireless or cellular transmitters should be permitted.

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The cost of completion for a municipal broadband project varies by location. In Olds, Alberta, with a population under 10,000, expenses totaled around $21 million. The Niagara Regional Broadband Network (NRBN), in total, originally cost $13 million to complete. The Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN), which delivers service across hundreds of kilometers, required $170 million in funding. Of this budget, $70 million went toward laying new cables to connect 5,000 kilometers of existing fiber infrastructure.

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There are many reasons why fiber is the future of Internet infrastructure. Fiber is the fastest and most reliable broadband connection on the market, and has the capacity for much more bandwidth than traditional Internet platforms. The speed that a fiber network provides — which can be up to 1,000 times faster than your run-of-the-mill DSL connection — is also a huge draw for businesses and industry; in places like Chattanooga, Tennessee, it’s been proven to give the local economy a boost that hasn’t been seen since the industrial revolution.

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Unfortunately, cable just won’t cut it anymore. Unlike fiber, it has limited room for bandwidth and discourages efficient network traffic. Fiber is future-proof; for years to come it will still be fast, durable, and highly efficient. Fiber’s promise of long-term speed and reliability is the draw for businesses to community-owned networks.

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A project like this must mean tax hikes, right? Think again! There are examples in Canada where taxes didn’t need to be raised to pay for broadband infrastructure. In Olds, Alberta, the profits from O-Net are projected to completely pay off the community’s loans from the government within 10 years, due to the booming business the network has created for the municipality. If just one third of the population subscribes to O-Net, the project pays for itself.

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Municipalities who have laid broadband infrastructure will often sell their network capacity to ISPs, who in turn offer service to subscribers. Open access means that any provider, big or small, has the same opportunity to use a municipal broadband network. This includes indie providers, who sometimes face an uphill battle entering a market dominated by well-established companies.

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With open access community-owned networks, telecom companies have the chance to profit from infrastructure that they didn’t pay to build. It widens the service area of existing ISPs and allows them to reach an expanded customer base. Not to mention, it gives all companies — including indie providers — an equal shot to get in on the market. That’s a great deal!

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Big Telecom runs the show in Canada’s Internet market. Sometimes referred to as “incumbent providers”, they are the companies that sell the majority of Internet services to Canadians across the country. Household names like Bell, Telus, Rogers, Shaw, and more are part of Big Telecom, and collectively hold around 91% of the residential Internet market share.

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As alternative options to Big Telecom, independent “indie” providers are smaller, third-party ISPs. They are an important part of healthy market competition in Canada, as they often encourage affordable prices from their larger competitors, resulting in better offerings for customers.

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The digital divide refers to the ever-widening gap between people who have adequate access to the Internet and those who do not. In many cases, the divide exists along geographic and socioeconomic lines; that is, there are millions of rural, low-income, and remote Canadians with little to no broadband access, while urban centers remain the focus for affordable upgrades and fast connections. The Internet is a crucial medium for free expression, with the result that Canadians who fall on the wrong side of the digital divide see their ability to express themselves restricted.

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The status quo isn’t fair to the 6.3 million Canadians who live in rural centers, or the 14.9% of the population who is considered low-income. Municipal broadband is one of the best ways we can close the digital divide in Canada. It connects rural populations to state-of-the-art fiber networks, and levels the playing field when Big Telecom won’t venture outside the city limits.

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Dark fiber is a name for fiber that is “unlit”, and therefore, not in use. Dark fiber infrastructure is in some cases already built, as companies place more cables than necessary to save on future expenses. Dark fiber can be used to the municipal broadband network’s advantage, as the utilization of existing infrastructure is a great way to lower the cost of a project.

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Municipal and community-owned broadband networks exist all over the world, in both urban and rural communities. Examples in Olds, Alberta and Sandy, Oregon illustrate how community-owned networks in North America can do wonders for the livelihoods of those who live there. Similar projects are even springing up thousands of miles away, in places like the Netherlands and Singapore. This map shows community-owned networks in the U.S.: https://muninetworks.org/communitymap


Coastal BC

The Connected Coast is bringing an open-access sub-sea fiber cable to 153 coastal communities in BC by 2023. Several underserved islands including Cortes and Quadra, Hornby and Denman and Haida Gwaii are building their own fiber last mile networks that will connect to this sub-sea cable.

 C-tal Fiber Cooperative in Quebec

The C-tal Cooperative is providing fiber to the home to several communities in the region of Antoine-Labelle, Quebec with the goal of enriching the life of its members with high-performing technology while contributing to the socio-economic growth of our communities.

Canadian Municipal Fiber Communities

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